Paranoia at the Highest Level
by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis
Last week, CIA finally released a series of top-secret files known in the agency as the "Crown Jewels" that covered its illegal activities from 1960—1970’s. The much-anticipated dossier offered few surprises and confirmed much of what was already well known.
Still, the files officially confirmed CIA plans in the 1960’s to assassinate foreign leaders like Fidel Castro, Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, and Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem. It also revealed extensive agency spying on Americans, illegal wiretaps and often embarrassingly amateurish cloak and dagger operations that contrasted unfavorably with rival KGB’s more professional performance.
Unfortunately, many other secret operations that violated US law — an attempt to kill Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, overthrowing governments in Syria and Central America, or waging war in Indonesia — remained classified. Former CIA directors, Adm. Stansfield Turner and Dr. James Schlesinger, both told me in the 1980’s that they had wanted to reveal far more information about CIA than had then come out, but were not able to do so.
Revelations of CIA’s "family jewels" certainly bring back lots of Cold War nostalgia. Americans, however, are asking how these past CIA illegalities compare to today’s violations of the Constitution and federal laws by US national security agencies.
The answer: today’s violations by CIA, FBI, NSA (National Security Agency) and various Pentagon intelligence operations — that include massive wiretapping, data mining, and communications intercepts, kidnapping, and torture — are far more serious and widespread. However, their justification, the alleged threat to national security by "Islamic terrorists," is tiny compared to the huge threat posed by the Soviet Union’s massive nuclear arsenal during the Cold War.
CIA’s dramatic historic revelations bring us to the shadowy figure of the real power in the White House, US Vice President Dick Cheney. It was Cheney who engineered the Iraq war, is urging attacks on Iran and Syria, and has championed CIA’s domestic surveillance programs. He sees America surrounded and infiltrated by enemies.
In these respects, Cheney bears a remarkable resemblance to the fabled Cold Warrior, and US intelligence grand master, James Jesus Angleton.
Angleton rose through US wartime OSS intelligence to become director of CIA’s powerful counterintelligence division. He was extremely close during the 1950’s to the senior British MI6 intelligence officer, Kim Philby, who headed up British intelligence in Washington and was the nexus of Anglo-American intelligence operations.
The charming, brainy Philby fed Angleton a steady stream of disinformation and lies. Angleton fell totally under Philby’s spell; some intelligence sources hinted at an even more intimate relationship, though no proof has ever emerged. Whatever the case, Philby used Angleton and made a complete fool of him.
In 1963, Philby defected to Moscow after being finally unmasked as a high-level KGB agent by a Russian defector. By then, the damage was done. Philby’s treachery inflicted huge damage on US and British intelligence, nearly bringing the demoralized MI6 to its knees.
Philby’s betrayal, so brilliantly captured in semi-fictional form by the writer John le Carré in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People, caused something to snap in Angleton’s tormented brain — just as the 9/11 attacks appear to have transformed Dick Cheney from a capable but colorless, mostly apolitical senior bureaucrat into an ardent militarist, sword-bearer of America’s far right, and soul-mate of Israel’s rightwing Likud Party.
By the late 1960’s, the brilliant, eccentric, Angleton, whose job was to find enemy agents within US intelligence, had became deeply disturbed and paranoid. Angleton trusted no one. He came to believe genuine Soviet defectors were KGB plants, and KGB plants legitimate defectors. He also become an active "asset" or at least very close ally of Israel’s Mossad, and a champion of Israel’s cause in Washington.
On orders of President Lyndon Johnson, Angleton unleashed notorious operation "CHAOS" that conducted highly illegal CIA surveillance of American anti-war and civil rights groups. He accused FBI of being infested by Soviet moles and blocked CIA-FBI cooperation.
By the 70’s, Angleton was seeing enemy spies everywhere. He suspected Henry Kissinger, and accused Canadian prime ministers Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau of being Soviet agents. He claimed Britain’s PM Harold Wilson, Sweden’s PM Olof Palme, and Germany’s chancellor Willy Brandt were also KGB agents.
Angleton’s galloping paranoia caused him to believe CIA was filled with Soviet moles. Similarly, Cheney concluded today’s CIA is unreliable, filled with "defeatists" and "Arabists," and could not be trusted with national security. Cheney and old ally Donald Rumsfeld created two "special" intelligence offices in the Pentagon linked to Israeli intelligence designed to bypass CIA and feed the White House and Congress bogus reports justifying invading Iraq and waging the so-called "war on terrorism."
Angleton created his own internal intelligence unit within the agency that spied on its co-workers and fed his growing dementia. Agency morale collapsed. This period of fierce mutual suspicions, snooping on employees, double or triple agents, and ruined careers became aptly known as "a wilderness of mirrors."
Angleton, a hero of America’s hard right, kept warning the White House the Soviets were about to attack. In 1974, the mentally unstable Angleton was forced to retire, having nearly wrecked CIA and severely damaged relations with key US allies.
Now, many in official Washington are worrying about how to retire the increasingly paranoid figure of Vice President Cheney, who, like Angleton, appears to have lost touch with reality in a wilderness of mirrors.